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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Even as he continues on the comeback trail from his self-imposed exile, comic Dave ChappelleDave Chappelle remains teasingly elusive. Fans of his inspired stand-up and shockingly funny Comedy CentralComedy Central series may feel there isn't enough of the star -- or of his freestyle comic fireworks -- in "Dave Chappelle's Block Party." But the formidable line-up of hip-hop and R&BR&B artists should attract hordes of appreciative ticketbuyers to this enjoyable performance doc helmed by Michel GondryMichel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"). And if Chappelle tends to be more of a genial host than star here, never mind: His full-tilt exuberance is richly amusing and highly contagious.

A heady spirit of spontaneity permeates the proceedings, suggesting the entire pic, much like the concert it documents, was conceived, planned and completed in a single burst of creative enthusiasm.

Early set-up scenes follow Chappelle around his Ohio hometown as he impulsively invites casual acquaintances, total strangers and even an entire college marching band to a free outdoor concert a few days hence in a Brooklyn neighborhood. (He offers free bus transportation to and from the venue.)

Dave Chappelle's Block Party
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Cynics might suspect Chappelle is merely playing Mr. Nice Guy (and, perhaps, engaging in image enhancement) while Gondry's camera crew captures his every benevolent gesture. But the comic's playful interactions with everyday folks come across as every bit as funny and unforced as his rehearsal room bantering with superstar celebs.

Chappelle continues to pop up periodically throughout "Block Party," either as backstage kibitzer or on-stage introducer. (During one especially funny riff, he pays tongue-in-cheek tribute to the magic of James Brown.) Ultimately, however, the music and the musicians are the main attractions here.

Presented on Sept. 18, 2004, in occasionally inclement weather, the all-day concert includes stellar performances by the likes of Kanye West (tearing his way through "Jesus Walks" with messianic fervor), Erykah Badu (who matter-of-factly doffs her immense Afro wig after a brief rainfall), Dead Prez (swaggeringly militant with their "Turn off the Radio") and the Roots (backed by guest stars Kool G Rap and -- omigosh! -- Big Daddy Kane).

AudAud response borders on the ecstatic when Chappelle intros a reunion of seminal hip-hoppers the Fugees -- including Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Prakazrel "Pras" Michael -- who pleasingly perform their trademark cover of "Killing Me Softly."

Using a small army of lensers armed with Super 16 cameras, Gondry (a musicvideo vet) achieves an impressive degree of detail with a minimum of vertiginous hand-held excess. Sound quality is exceptional. Even so, music fans might quibble about the relative brevity of some sets. Presumably, there will be extended performances on the ultimate DVD release.



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